Blue Jays teammates reflect on lessons learned from Josh Donaldson

Justin Smoak was the hero for the Blue Jays after hitting the game-winning grand slam, and also spoke about Josh Donaldson being traded to Cleveland.

Friday night had plenty of highs and lows for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Minutes after hitting a go-ahead grand slam at the top of the ninth to push the Jays to victory over the Miami Marlins, Justin Smoak received the news that his friend and teammate, Josh Donaldson, was headed to the Cleveland Indians.

“It’s tough, man. I mean, he’s a great player, great teammate. I wish him nothing but the best,” Smoak told Sportsnet’s Arash Madani upon learning the news, following the club’s 6-5 win.

Rumours of Donaldson possibly being dealt by Friday’s midnight deadline have been swirling all week. The third baseman and pending free agent cleared waivers earlier Friday, making him eligible to be traded. This, after beginning a rehab stint with high-A Dunedin on Tuesday where he strung together a few impressive outings to prove he’s major-league ready following a lengthy absence due to calf injury.

“He’s just a grinder, man. The guy gets after it day in and day out. Hurt, not hurt, he goes out there and grinds it out,” Smoak said, when asked about what he’ll remember most about his days playing alongside Donaldson. “He’s played a lot of games — that’s something as an everyday player, I feel like a lot of people take for granted.

“I know the last couple of years hadn’t been what he wanted to be with injuries and stuff, but he’s an unbelievable player, he’s MVP talent, it’s something where he’ll definitely be missed,” Smoak added.

Donaldson was limited to just 36 games in 2018, and hasn’t suited up with the Blue Jays since May 28.

Both Smoak and Donaldson joined the Blue Jays following the 2014 season, sharing in a pair of thrilling post-season runs in the two years that followed.

“Everybody knows he’s one of the best players in the game,” Smoak said. “I mean, hands down, talented, plays both sides of the ball, but I feel like the biggest thing is just his mentality. He’s not going to give an at-bat away — that’s something I learned a lot from him.

“It’s easy, in this game when you’re playing every day and playing a six-month season, it’s easy to give away at-bats,” Smoak continued. “And that’s something that he never did. I don’t care if we were losing 10-1 or winning 15-2, it’s something that I’ll always take from him.”

Not long after Donaldson was dealt, the Blue Jays announced the departure of outfielder Curtis Granderson to the Milwaukee Brewers in another deadline deal, with minor-league outfielder Demi Orimoloye coming to Toronto in return.

Sanchez: Donaldson will be ‘right in his habitat’ with Cleveland

If Donaldson can stay healthy, he’ll have a shot at another solid playoff run — this time, with Cleveland (and alongside a familiar face in Edwin Encarnacion). Blue Jays pitcher Aaron Sanchez believes that’s an ideal situation for the infielder, who stepped up in 2015 with an MVP season and taught his teammates plenty of valuable lessons in winning along the way.

“He put us on his back in 2015 when he was MVP and took us to the promised land,” Sanchez said following Friday’s game. “We understood what it took to win ball games and what it took to get to that next level in terms of playing for a real season in October.”

Sanchez & Co. could be seeing Donaldson again really soon, as Toronto is set to host Cleveland for a four-game homestand beginning Sept. 6.

“I know everybody here wishes him well and obviously we want to beat Cleveland when they come into town next week, but hat’s off to them — they got a great player,” Sanchez said. “He loves to shine in the big moments, so he’s right in his habitat.”

Sanchez also spoke about his mindset going forward, now that the club has shed the stars of that 2015 run led by Donaldson.

“It sucks. Obviously it tells us that we’re in a little bit of a rebuilding mode here, I guess you could say,” Sanchez said. “And it’s going to be something that you’ve got to adjust to, really, in terms of not having the regular guys that you went to battle with year after year, spring training after spring training.

“The team’s a lot younger than it’s ever been in the last few years, so it’s just about giving these guys our best, the new guys that are coming up, get them comfortable here and hopefully in a few more years, the guys that are still here from those playoffs in ’15 and ’16 will be that anchor to relay to these guys what it takes,” he said.

“We’ve still got to show up, we’ve still got (28) games so it doesn’t change my mindset and it shouldn’t change these guys’ mindset in here, what we’re trying to accomplish to finish the year,” Sanchez said. “We want to finish the year strong and hopefully have an idea of what guys can do going into next year.”

Gibbons on Donaldson: ‘I love the guy’

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons also spoke of his now-former third baseman following Friday’s game. While he acknowledged things could get heated during competitive situations, the manager had nothing but good things to say about Donaldson.

“I’m gonna miss him, no doubt about that. The city’s gonna miss him, his teammates are gonna miss him,” Gibbons said. “He was a big part of turning this franchise around after a lot of lean years. I love the guy. We had our battles, but you know he’s got a big heart and he’s a special baseball player.”


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